New Norwich Public Works Chief Settles In -- Minus Some Basics

Submitted 2 months ago
Created by
Rob Gurwitt

In an earlier life, Larry Wiggins designed big things. He was a civil and structural engineer, and over the course of 20-some years working for various firms in Massachusetts he drew up plans for industrial buildings, underground coal-handling facilities, power-plant intake structures, highways, and bridges. He once designed a 1400-foot-long railroad bridge to handle coal cars. 

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So when the town of Newport, NH -- where he'd become public works director after deciding that life in Massachusetts wasn't for him -- asked him to oversee construction of a one-lane bridge in town, he advised against it. "I didn't think it was safe [to have just one lane]," he explains. But the town voted to go ahead anyway, so he did. "Sometimes in public works you get asked to do things that you scratch your head, but it’s what the town wants," he says. "So you offer your opinion and then you say, 'Okay, let’s see how well we can do that.'"

After nearly 27 years working for Newport -- he grew up nearby and now lives in Unity, NH -- Wiggins is bringing that approach to Norwich as its new public works director. He began on October 1 and has spent the weeks since then getting up to speed on the department, looking over the town's roads, and scrambling to get things ready for winter: arranging for winter sand and salt, looking into undercoating the town's trucks, getting roads paved and striped--if there's ever a clear day--and lining up shoulder gravel for paving projects. "If you can make sure your ditches and culverts are functional and you know you can handle a good storm, say a 50-year-storm, and that your bridges are okay, then you make sure your fleet is ready to roll," he says. "Weather drives everything."

He's also been trying to figure out how to get connected -- literally. Though the public works facilities sit in the shadow of the controversial cellphone tower that went up across from the town dump a few years back, Wiggins barely gets one bar of service--and then, only if he goes outside and stands next to a telephone pole at the corner of the building. There's no wifi, either. When he wants to look over pricing or send off emails to potential contractors or his staff or other town officials, he either drives over to Tracy Hall or does it from home at night.

Larry Wiggins tries to get online

These are blips that he takes in good humor -- "I do stuff the old fashioned way," he says, "I write it down or make lists." More of his attention is going to where he wants to take the Public Works Department once the basics are squared away. For instance, he and his crew have reworked snowplow routes, rethought the equipment they'll be using once snow does start falling in earnest, and talked over the plowing schedule.

"We'll probably change our callout in regards to a quicker response," Wiggins says. "We’re going to go out and have the routes addressed before the school buses hit them. And we’re going to run wing plows on all the routes we can. Hopefully it’ll all work out. But there’ll be some new routes, some new training, and people are going to be doing things differently, so it’s going to be a trial period."

Meanwhile, in his forays around Norwich to check out its infrastructure, Wiggins has come to one other conclusion. "Norwich is beautiful," he says. "It’s just a gorgeous town. People, I think, are very fortunate to live in this town."

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